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Tuesday, November 19

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Feature Mon Sep 24 2007

Windy City, Whisky Town

Chicago. The Windy City, The City of Big Shoulders, or The City That Works; these are just a few of the common Chicago monikers. Chicago is a city of icons; some made of stone or steel while many more are made of flesh and blood. It’s a city of heart, soul, and above all - passion. You can hear and feel passion in the legendary Blues Clubs or in the fans that pack Wrigley Field each and every game-day to support a team that perennially disappoints cursed by fate, a goat, or an infamous black-shirted and walkman-wearing man known simply as, Bartman. Above all, Chicagoans are passionate about community. In Chicago, community is self evident and best understood in the city’s ten thousand-plus restaurants and bars. In each of these establishments from big to small, renowned to unknown, Chicagoans can often be found sipping, swirling, and shooting an unctuous amber Spirit known as Whisky.

A near perfect storm of circumstance has conspired to make Whisky part of the fabric of the Chicago scene. A city of immigrants, Chicago saw its first Irish community in 1837. Many of the Irish had come to work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal and by 1844 they comprised 10 percent of the city's 7,580 residents. Separated from their homeland, the Irish in Chicago remained connected to their elixir of choice: uisce beathe, Gaelic for water of life – Whiskey. Add to this the fact that Chicago enjoys four seasons, and often to extremes. Just as tropical breezes and warm sand inspires slushy Rum drinks; cold and blustery evenings demand Whisky. Further, you must wrap history and climate in the communal attitude. Chicago has always been a no nonsense city largely unimpressed by trends. Time spent in Chicago instructs on the differences between being cosmopolitan and being hip; which is embracing sophistication whilst rebuffing its contemporary trappings. No beverage embodies this ethos as perfectly and timelessly as does Whisk(e)y.

“I think consumers (in Chicago) are very passionate about Whisky, but in a conservative way. They don't flaunt their passion. It's not about showing off and it's not a status symbol. They genuinely like to drink Whisky,” claims John Hansell, publisher of the Malt Advocate Magazine and creator of WhiskyFest. WhiskyFest in Chicago (held each spring) is not merely a one night affair rather a week long celebration of Whisky with multiple events occurs nightly at Chicago’s various Whisky interested bars and retailers.

Drinking Whisky in Chicago
Finding a good dram in Chicago is an easy task, however narrowing the choices can be tricky as there are only so many hours in a given evening. On drinking Whisky in Chicago, Martin Duffy, Diageo Master of Whisky says, “Chicago, no matter how much it changes over the years, always has that rough & tumble image that embodies Whisky, so the two are just a natural combination.” For a pure and unadulterated Scotch Whisky experience you can’t beat The Duke of Perth. However, Delilah's is a must see Chicago destination and The Clark Street Ale House is a quintessential Chicago Pub. Add to these stops at Rocks, The Bar on Buena, The Red Lion, Chief O’Neill’s, Ginger’s Ale House, or the bar at The Palm and you may just need a week or two to do it justice.

The Duke of Perth is one of Chicago’s scant handful of Scottish pubs in a city of hundreds of Irish Bars. The pub itself is small and certainly a hangout for locals. The colors are warm with hard wood floors, painted tin ceilings and collections of Scottish prints and artifacts adorning the walls. Best of all, the Duke of Perth is a “proper pub” void of televisions, a jukebox, and silly sweet cocktails. What you will find is straightforward and honest pub food (the all-you-can-eat fish & chips on both Wednesday and Friday evenings is a powerful draw). You will also be treated to a selection of British & Irish Ales on draft and one of the best selections of Scotch Whisky found this side of the pond. More than 80 Single Malts are available along with a dozen plus blended Whiskies. Luckily, and refreshingly, the pours and the prices are fantastically sensible. Mike Miller behind the bar is knowledgeable and generous with his time to first timers as well as the regular crowd always willing to introduce you to the appropriate malt.

Delilah's is a pub nearly immune to definition while never short of descriptions. Delilah's, much like its’ owner, Mike Miller (not The Duke of Perth’s Mike Miller) is a full on assault on the senses. This is perhaps the most sophisticated dive bar on the planet filled with an eclectic group of characters, on both sides of the bar, and a staggering array of drinks choices. Miller is beyond passionate in his pursuit of Whisky offering well more than 300 single malts along with a most impressive collection of blended whisky (including labels that have long disappeared from the marketplace) not to mention a virtual museum of Bourbon. Delilah's patrons’ range from wildly inked and pierced punks to 40 something professionals seeking the city’s most complete collection of Beers and Spirits. On any given evening you are just as likely to hear a call for a 35-year-old single malt as one for a can of PBR and the two-buck shot special. Delilah's is a must visit for the Whisky World’s most recognized names who never fail to stop in and soak up the atmosphere along with a dram or two. When serving whisky Miller is always fond of saying, “the best thing to mix with Whisky is a glass.”

Clark Street Ale House boasts 80 plus single malts along with an impressive number of Beers on tap. The Bar on Buena is my local pub and provider of three-dozen plus single malts. Proprietor Aaron Zacharias is always looking to offer a solid and balanced selection of products to his north side patrons. Zacharias says, “I believe that your patrons have to be the judge on whether or not an establishment carries a quality whiskey selection. It's about providing a wide range of profiles at affordable prices so that people can taste a variety of whiskies and find the flavor(s) that fit their taste.”

Buying Whisky in Chicago
Chicago has long been a wine and spirits retail giant. Long time industry giants Binny’s and Sam’s have dominated the scene supported by a strong core of larger mid-tier stores and a growing number of neighborhood shops. At the moment Binny’s leads the pack when it comes to Whisky based on the sheer number of labels offered, and commitment to the category offering roughly 650 single malts. Leading Binny’s charge is Brett Pontoni a passionate Spirits guy whose efforts earned him The Malt Advocate’s- Industry Leader of the Year in 2005. Pontoni attributes Chicago’s Whisky prominence to the iconic retail wine & spirits retailers Harold Binstein, Sam & Fred Rosen, and Max Zimmerman. “These guys were fierce competitors who respectfully pushed each other and in the process demanded new products from their suppliers. Soon these Chicago stores had items that could not be found anywhere else in the country.”

Beyond Binny’s is another Chicago classic, Sam’s that offers a wide array of Whiskies in their three Chicagoland stores. West Lakeview Liquors typifies the savvy neighborhood shop offering a great and balanced selection of Whiskies along with friendly, and personal service.

Hot Malts
The Singleton of Glendullan is the latest US bottling from Diageo introduced in just two US markets, Chicago, of course, being one of them. The Singleton is terrific 12 years old malt featuring malty, caramel, and shortbread tones with complimentary brown spice and pepper notes.

Bowmore 18 Years Old, Islay Single Malt, is the latest expression from the legendary Bowmore and a damn great one. It will take the place of the long loved 17 years old expression (devotees take solace in the fact that this label will be available in Duty Free stores). as part of a total portfolio re-alignment. This Whisky won Double Gold and Best in Show Whisky at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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